NEW YORK: Researchers claim to have found evidence that low doses of commonly used anaesthetic drugs can flush out harrowing memories before they can take hold.
In their study, the researchers at the University of California have found that anaesthetics play a major role in blocking the formation of memories associated with emotive images, the New Scientist reported.
"One popular misconception about anaesthesia is that unconsciousness occurs immediately.
In fact, low doses of anaesthetics can leave patients conscious but impede memory," lead researcher Michael Alkire said.
They treated volunteers either with low doses of sevoflurance gas or with a placebo, and showed them a series of 36 photographs, ranging from the banal, such as a coffee cup, to the emotionally arousing, such as a severed hand.
One week later, the volunteers were asked to recall as many of the images as they could.
Those given the dummy gas remembered approximately 29% of the powerful images, and 12% of the others. However, those who had received sevoflurane could remember just 5% of the emotive images and 10% of the others.
Brain scans revealed that the gas appeared to interfere with impulses between the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain known for their involvement in the processing of emotion and memory.
"This study reports the discovery of an agent and method for blocking human emotional memory," according to the researchers.
They added: "Understanding how drugs could stop this happening might provide clues to "intraoperative awareness" - rare instances in which the memory disrupting qualities of anaesthetic drugs fail and patients can recall the experience of undergoing surgery."
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